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Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council holds 10th annual meeting

Gláucio Lopes Published on 31 December 2015
meeting attendees

The Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council (DCRC) held their 10th annual meeting in Buffalo, New York, Nov. 11-13.

It was a great opportunity to network and learn among more than 250 leading industry experts, veterinarians, progressive dairy producers, researchers, nutritionists, educators and others interested in improving dairy reproduction.

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The well-attended meeting offered the perfect environment to discuss advances in reproductive research and practice, as well as ideas to help achieve excellence in reproductive performance.

In addition, Joe Dalton, DCRC president, highlighted new features in the members-only section on the website, such as:

  • Unlimited access to “Ask the Expert” question and answers
  • Educational resources from past conferences
  • Previous volumes of the DCRC e-newsletter
  • New and archived webinars
  • Newly revised reproduction protocols

The annual meeting also included a full schedule of educational sessions. Following are several highlights.

Activity monitoring systems: What’s new and what’s improved?

Ray Nebel, vice president of technical service programs at Select Sires Inc., began the breakout sessions with a presentation about activity monitoring systems. He shared the history of the first pedometers, which date back to the 1970s.

Nebel explained how current monitoring systems have improved on past ability to deliver useful, reliable, real-time data to producers to aid their daily decision-making process to improve animal health and reproduction.

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He discussed warranty length, lower failure rates and producer support after installation as the most useful enhancements to the current systems.

He further explained that second-, third- and (for some) fourth-generation sensors/systems are now available. The new generations bring more rugged wearables and enhanced proprietary algorithms which provide information for individual cow management and immediate decision implementation related to breeding, health and ration evaluation.

Smartphone apps are now available for practically all automated systems with enhanced graphics and look-up functions.

Nebel also highlighted the enhanced monitoring of rumination and nutrition. The most important of this information is provided in either:

  • Minutes per day
  • Duration and number of eating bouts

For example, he noted that the monitoring of fresh cow activity and rumination allows sick cows to be identified before visual or acute symptoms are seen.

Ration changes and response to different feed ingredients, mold or toxin presence and fiber sources may also be evaluated on an individual or group basis. Producers with rumination monitoring can receive health alerts or an index displaying the decrease in rumination or increase in non-active time.

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This identifies cows needing individual attention before visual symptoms are present, allows tracking of successful treatments versus cows that may need additional care and prevents overtreatment.

Metrics to assess reproductive efficiency

Luis Mendonça, dairy extension specialist at the department of animal sciences and industry at Kansas State University, offered an overview as to which metrics are worthy of attention to evaluate reproductive performance.

He noted the differences among the benchmarks most used by consultants, dairy managers and producers. And he stressed some of these parameters lack momentum when evaluating overall performance – for example, “average days open,” and why that lack is so important.

To better understand and manage reproductive trends, Mendonça urged attendees to track and evaluate pregnancy risk (PR), also known as pregnancy rate. It is still a key performance indicator because it does not lag far behind from the date when the report is created.

Dairies should strive for an annual PR in the mid-20 percent range, and the PR for each 21-day period should not vary significantly throughout the year.

Mendonça also stressed that when evaluating conception risk (CR), also known as conception rate, the number of inseminations and lactations should be considered (for example, first lactation and second lactation and above).

First-service CR should be greater than 40 percent for first-lactation animals and greater than 35 percent for cows in their second lactation or greater. The CR of resynchronized cows (after first services) should be more than 30 percent for both first-lactation cows and those in their second lactation or more.

When assessing CR of a herd or investigating potential issues in CR, several factors should be considered:

  • Evaluate CR according to A.I. technician and insemination code (such as timed A.I. or estrous-based A.I.)
  • Consider potential factors (nutrition, weather, cow-related factors, semen quality and management practices)

Insemination risk (or heat detection rate) also greatly affects PR.

PR reports from herd management software generally provide the insemination risk or insemination rate. Insemination risk represents the proportion of cows inseminated out of cows eligible to be inseminated during a specific time frame (21-day period).

Managers should strive to have an insemination risk of at least 60 percent. Take care to not allow cows to get too far into lactation without receiving their first A.I. after the voluntary waiting period, as well as the re-insemination interval.

Monitor PR at least monthly, Mendonça concluded. Also evaluate heat detection and conception risk due to their impact on pregnancy risk.

Keys to success in reproduction: A practitioner’s perspective

Mark Thomas, Dairy Health and Management Services LLC, Lowville, New York, shared his perspective on key points that help dairies reach reproductive success.

He explained the differences between optimization versus maximization of reproductive performance, noting that dairy producers should focus on reasonable goals. He also recommended they take into consideration potential constraints that exist on the dairy when performing this analysis.

Thomas suggested that a reasonable approach to selecting a reproduction program is to identify if the protocol can logistically be implemented given the facilities and labor available. An economic comparison of the existing and recommended programs should also be completed to evaluate the potential gain in performance and profitability.

In addition, employees should be informed and aware of the farm’s overall and specific goals. By creating a culture of motivation and achievement, employees will take ownership in the process of improvement and strive to optimize performance in all areas.

He concluded that careful review of the many factors that affect reproductive performance will allow dairy producers, veterinarians and other consultants to effectively evaluate the program and find the bottlenecks preventing optimal performance.  PD

Gláucio Lopes is a veterinarian graduated from Brazil and received his master’s degree in dairy cow reproduction at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He is the large herd manager and reproduction specialist for SCR Dairy Inc.

PHOTO: The 10th DCRC annual meeting welcomed a crowd of more than 250 people to Buffalo, New York, in November to learn about the latest in dairy cow reproduction. Photo by Peggy Coffeen.

Gláucio Lopes
  • Gláucio Lopes

  • Large Herd Manager
  • Repro Specialist
  • SCR Dairy Inc.
  • Email Gláucio Lopes

Other news from DCRC annual meeting …

Joseph C. Dalton, University of Idaho, wrapped up his term as president of DCRC’s board of directors, passing the torch to Stephen LeBlanc, University of Guelph, Ontario Veterinary College. Other officers include Vice President Todd Bilby, Ph.D., Merck Animal Health; and Secretary-Treasurer John Lee, Elanco Animal Health.

Serving as directors to the board are the following: Ricardo Chebel, DVM, University of Florida; Paul Fricke, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin – Madison; and B.J. Jones, DVM, Wisconsin.

According to Dalton, efforts on behalf of DCRC to improve dairy cattle health and reproduction address these three main concerns:

  1. The transition period (includes pre-calving, calving and post-calving, and animal health)

  2. Emerging technologies for increased efficiency and sustainability (genomics, including on-going research and what producers are doing right now; animal activity monitors, of which the latest versions offer data collection relative to reproduction and animal health)

  3. Efficient generation of pregnancies (Management strategies to include heat detection and A.I., as well as synchronization and timed A.I., in both heifers and lactating cows)

“In 2015, DCRC facilitated the efficient flow of cutting-edge information from researchers, industry and veterinarians to dairy producers through e-newsletters, webinars, the annual meeting and past-meeting proceedings, posters and presentations,” Dalton stated.

He further noted that among those highlights are the release of the revised Dairy Cow and Heifer Synchronization Protocol sheets and expansion of e-membership options to outside North America at a discounted rate.

As LeBlanc transitions into DCRC’s leadership, he looks forward to continuing to elevate the organization’s profile by increasing membership and gaining awareness among dairy producers, veterinarians and academics.

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